Social networking sites have clearly changed the fabric of family life. This is being reflected more and more in family court.
As we frequently tell our children, watch what you post online, it can come back to bite you. Many recent cases contain references to facebook posts that are admitted to evidence and help or hurt one party. In Scrivo v. Scrivo (2012 Ont. S.C.J.), the mother posted her unflattering assessment of the father and his new partner on facebook. These posts were admitted in evidence, and contradicted her testimony that she encouraged a relationship between the children and their father. The judge rejected her oral testimony on that point. In the same case, the children’s facebook posts, stating that they felt that they were in a war zone between their parents were also admitted into evidence and referenced in the judge’s decision.
An Ontario Superior Court judge, in hearing an application to seal a court file, considered the mother’s concerns that the nature of the pleadings may result in embarrassing and damaging situations to the children. The mother believed that the children were especially vulnerable to bullying on facebook. Based on this, and other factors, portions of the file were sealed and the parties were identified by their initials. (C.M.G. v. R.G. (2012 Ont. S.C.J.))
This issue is also alive in child protection cases. In Children’s Aid Society of St Thomas (City) & Elgin (County) v. D. (E.) (2012 O.C.J.), based on concerns over a history of lack of supervision of two young girls, the judge ordered that the father
shall forthwith remove from his home all desk-top and laptop computers whether presently operable or in parts. (He) is entitled to have in his home his existing NetTop device and cellular telephone provided he removes from them any application allowing access to any form of computer game or Facebook account. …(He) shall not access in his home or, while the children are in his care from any other location, any application on any device that allows computer gaming and Facebook use.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. Facebook has been proposed in a number of cases as a way for a parent to have access to children when there is physical distance between them, or for children to maintain relationships with their friends if they are moving as part of their parents’ separation.
In addition, a New Brunswick Court allowed service of court documents by facebook, when the father was found to be evading service (P. (J.R.) v. D. (D.)) (2012 N.B.Q.B.). This allowed the case to move forward.
In some family cases, facebook and other social networking sites can be an opportunity. However, in many others they are a serious problem. Parties using these sites need to consider their posts carefully, knowing that venting one day may cause regret in the future.